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Criminals, too, love the Internet

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on May 1, 2010 at 6:45 pm with No Comments »
April 30, 2010 6:48 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

You can’t blame the Web for the brutal home invasion that left an Edgewood father dead Wednesday – but you can’t ignore its role, either.

The murder was inhuman and purely gratuitous. The four killers reportedly tied up James Sanders and his wife, forced them to the floor, then began pistol-whipping their 14-year-old son in front of them. When Sanders struggled helplessly to protect the boy, the intruders shot him repeatedly.

Craigslist was the matchmaker that brought killers and victims together.

Sanders had advertised an heirloom diamond ring and other valuables on the site; a woman responded and reportedly said she wanted to buy the ring for Mother’s Day. Sanders – described by all as a caring, devout Christian – trusted her with his home address. The “sale” turned into the robbery-murder.

Some other reports of Craigslist-enabled crime in recent weeks, all from The Associated Press:

• Hartford, Conn.: “A Connecticut man who was feuding with his neighbor targeted her in an explicit online posting that invited strangers to a rowdy orgy with a bored soccer mom, police said. …”

• Boston, March 29: “A former Boston University medical student charged with killing a masseuse he met on Craigslist has turned over a DNA sample to prosecutors …”

• Casper, Wyo., March 25: “A district judge has ordered two men accused of using Craigslist to arrange the rape of a Wyoming woman to stand trial together. …”

• Chicago, March 17: “A Minnesota man has been arrested in Chicago and charged with selling his wife’s sexual services on Craigslist. …”

Craigslist is only a fragment of a much larger universe, the Web. By fostering anonymity and exponentially expanding interpersonal contacts, the Internet has multiplied opportunities for criminals to connect with each other and troll for victims.

What happened to Sanders is a worst case. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are preyed on annually through the Internet, sometimes with violence but far more often with financial scams.

The recession seems to have heightened the threat. According to the U.S. Justice Department’s annual Internet Crime Report, formal complaints of Web-assisted crime rose from 275,284 in 2008 to 336,655 in 2009 – a 22.3 percent increase in a single year.

Nevada ranked as the state with the highest reported number of perpetrators. Number Two? Washington.

It’s always been a jungle out there. But the Web, for all its virtues, has made it far too easy for predators to find prey.

As Sanders’ murder demonstrates, vicious criminals are now just a few clicks away from anyone’s living room. The Internet has given them a big jump on the innocent public; may law enforcement soon figure out how to close the distance.

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